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FOR decades, weight has been the measure used to track health and wellbeing. But how much is our weight really telling us?
The answer is: not a lot.
If we want to get technical about it, our weight is only telling us the gravitational relationship between us and the earth. That’s it. It’s one number, summing up all of our composition. It’s not just our body fat but our muscle, our organs, our bones, our water and the contents of our bowels.
Weight is also challenging because we don’t have a lot of control over it. Aside from going to the toilet, there is very little you can do to directly change the number on the scales from one moment to the next. While jumping on the scales before and after a trip to the bathroom can be an interesting experiment, it doesn’t reflect any change to our health or wellbeing.
Yet, we use this rudimentary yardstick to measure our progress in all things health related. While there is irrefutable evidence that excess body weight and a high BMI (Body Mass Index) is associated with health risks in population groups, at an individual level body weight alone is an inaccurate and frustrating marker for health.
I work with many clients who have made positive changes to their diet and lifestyle, feel better and have more energy. However, if the number on the scales hasn’t changed, all those positive habits lose their value. A lack of weight change can be due to so many variables in body composition, but there is no way of determining that by jumping on the bathroom scales.
So, what should we be really looking for in body composition to better track our health status?
Visceral fat. The fat that surrounds our organs is more strongly associated with increased risk of metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer, than weight alone. Visceral fat is particularly related to insulin resistance, the precursor to Type 2 diabetes.
Muscle. The muscles in our arms, legs and torso are metabolically active, which means they are churning through energy even when they aren’t in use. The more muscle we have, the more effectively our body utilises fuels such as carbohydrates. Increased muscle also supports our bone health and immune function.
Bone inerals. Our skeleton is made up of minerals including calcium and phosphorus. Maximising bone mineral density throughout our lives can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures as we age.
Water. Hydration is essential to good health. Dehydration can impair our immune system, our kidney’s filtering system and our brain function.
With this in mind, I propose a revolution to ditch the bathroom scales, get an accurate reading of your body composition and then focus your energy on the habits that will support good health long term.
Clare Wolski is a practising dietitian at The Healthy Eating Hub, call 6174 4663. healthyeatinghub.com.au/about-the-hub/healthy-eating-team/clare-wolski-apd/